Fred and Jan's Excellent Adventure 2008 travel blog

Two days of touring, six battlefields at five different locations, three films to help us understand the times and the campaigns, four ranger walk/talks. There were well over 100,000 casualties during these six campaigns – hard to imagine or comprehend. One of the displays we saw was a pictograph with outlines of soldiers, demonstrating that during the Civil War, there were more casualties than in all the other American wars in our entire history combined. First Manassas (July 21, 1891, the first major battle of the Civil War) and Second Manassas (August 28 – 30, 1862) both happened in nearly the same location. These battles were also known as First and Second Bull Run, because the North called battles by nearby bodies of water (i.e. Bull Run, Antietam) while the South named the same battles by the town nearest the battle (i.e. Manassas, Sharpsburg). Both battles were Confederate victories. We watched an excellent orientation film at the Visitor Center and enjoyed a ranger walk/talk because we learn more than what is in the self guided brochures. The historian told us details and information about not only famous individuals in the battles, but also about those less famous. For example, during a guided walk of the 1861 battlefield, we learned about the first civilian casualty of the war, a grandmother in her 80s, Mrs. Judith Carter Henry, who was killed in her home, and we stood at the location where General Stonewall Jackson received his nickname from General Bernard Bee. There was no guided tour of the battlefield of Robert E. Lee’s bold and successful Second Manassas Campaign, so we toured the large battlefield in a sixteen mile route on our motorcycle, stopping to read signage and read our brochure to learn more at each stop on the self guided tour. Because of my connection to Daniel Webster via the Inn in my home town of Sandwich, we took a long walk along a pathway and found the monument to his son who died in battle on August 30, 1862. On the way, we noticed a doe grazing in the field near the tree line, obviously unaware she was eating on a field where thousands of soldiers had died 146 years ago. On the way back to the RV Park, we rode on the Skyline Drive awhile. Since it was late afternoon, there was very little traffic and the ride was fun. The drive passes through the Shenandoah National Park, and we were treated to several nature sightings: a wild turkey and a doe, both standing still, right by the side of the road, and a black bear that bounded across the road right in front of us! The bear was a special sighting, since they are generally shy creatures, and do not often come out of the forest. Lauri, we also stopped at Hogback Mountain Overlook - I will put a photo of it on when I get enough Internet power to do so; then you can compare the Virginia Hogback view to your Vermont Hogback view that we enjoyed last year!

The next day we went to four more locations. Fredericksburg (December 12, 1862) was a tremendous and decisive victory for the South, and a mortifying loss for the North. By the end of the battle, Lee had won his most one-sided victory of the war. Again, we learned from the orientation film and a ranger of some not too famous people and their roles in the battle. For example, there was the Confederate soldier who, after the battle was over, took water to dying Northern soldiers lying in the fields. He is memorialized with a large sculpture on the grounds of the national park, which stands right at the worst part of the fighting. Then there was a woman, a native of Fredericksburg, whose home was riddled with bullet holes that are still visible today. The home still stands near the sculpture. Standing with the historian in the Sunken Road area, hearing his stories, and seeing first hand where so many thousands died in just a few hours, was chilling. The historian who shared his stories with us here knew the historian we’d met back in Franklin, TN a few weeks ago, and told us we were really lucky he had been our guide, as he was a true expert on the Civil War. We’d already thought that, based on the passion he’d displayed when he talked with us at Franklin. The next big battle in the area was Chancellorsville (April 27 - May 6, 1863) which, based on all the factors involved, should have won by the North, but it was not. Unfortunately, although the South won the battle, they lost Stonewall Jackson, since he was mortally wounded by friendly fire on May 2, 1863. We stood in the same location where he was shot and learned from a ranger how the event unfolded. It was especially poignant to learn that Lee had seen his 5 month old daughter for the first time only a week before the battle, and then saw her only once more as he lay dying at a nearby inn a few days after he was mistakenly shot by his own soldiers. The last two battles in this area were close together in timing: The Wilderness (May 5 – 6, 1864) was the first of several classic encounters between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, and took place in a large rural region tangled with forest and dense underbrush. This campaign, classified as a stalemate, had both sides attacking and counter attacking during the two days of battle, and both sides suffered many thousands of casualties, but then Grant continued on to Spotsylvania Court House (May 8 – 21, 1864), for another very bloody stalemate with Lee’s forces. Although neither of the battles was a victory for Grant, both set the stage for Grant to push on to Richmond. We are not going to Richmond or Petersburg on this trip, so we will not see first hand how those battles unfolded, although we know the final results. Next we move on to national parks at Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, and Gettysburg. It would be so interesting to view all the Civil War sites in the order they occurred, but that would be totally impractical, so we are seeing them in geographical order, rather than chronologically.

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